No prizes for spotting the biggest influence on Chase Mullen’s exquisite ink-and-acrylic works that depict Louisiana’s wild creatures. “I was heavily inspired by Audubon and his works, and I’ve always liked older, scientific illustrations,” noted Mullen. “I took that style and set out to make it more contemporary—to make something that would work outside of the antique look of illustration.”
So the Baton Rouge artist-illustrator plays around a bit, incorporating contemporary elements
like road signage, license plates, and other whimsical juxtapositions (raccoon riding deer; crawfish perched on gator skull) that express the fact that, in Louisiana, the separation between the manmade and the teeming natural world out of which it is carved is never very great. “I mean, where else would you see alligator roadkill?” asked Mullen with a grin. “Here, so many towns and cities seem to be teetering on the edge of the swamp; you just can’t separate the natural and human worlds.” Indeed, there’s a sense that nature might rise up and get you at any time.
Working in a combination of ink, acrylic, and watercolor on paper, Mullen explores the natural history of his home state one feather, fish scale, or hair follicle at a time. He explained that with realism and scientific illustration he can’t rely on any one medium. “Acrylic and watercolor work differently when you’re working with fur or with scales,” he observed. “With scales I enjoy using a combination, so I can get the smooth surfaces with acrylic, plus the translucence and opaque impression that watercolor gives.”
Also impossible to miss in Mullen’s work is his deep love for and connection with the Louisiana landscapes in which he was born and raised. And a palpable resolve never to take them for granted.
Another influence he invokes is that of iconic photographer Fonville Winans, who was born in Mexico, Missouri, and moved to the Bayou State in 1928 as a young man. “[Winans] seemed to see Louisiana with an explorer’s mentality,” said Mullen. “I think that’s part of my fascination with scientific illustration. I like the idea of looking at the creatures of my home place through the eyes of an explorer.”
Find more of Chase Mullen’s work at chasemullenstudios.com. Or better still on Instagram @chasemullenstudios, where he posts lots of process shots that beautifully illustrate his technique.